Yoga Culture

Michael Tchong Trends

Propelled by life’s mounting stresses, a by-product of the Time Compression Ubertrend — the acceleration of life, the practice of yoga has exploded in the past 40 years.

Yoga is now practiced by more than 200 million, according to the Hindustan Times (26-Jan-13) people worldwide, including over 100 million in its country of origin, India.

Yoga Journal’s “Yoga In America” study has traditionally been the go-to source for yoga universe data, as well it should. Yoga Journal began publishing in May 1975 with an initial print run of 300 copies. Today, it is the world’s largest yoga magazine with a circulation of 375,000.

Over the years, Yoga Journal has relied on at least five different research companies to study the market, including Roper Starch (1990, 1994), Wall Street Journal/NBC (1998), Harris Interactive (2003, 2005), Sports Marketing Surveys USA (2012), and IPSOS Public Affairs (2016). The magazine appears to have conducted its 2008 survey in-house.

Along with these changes, estimates of U.S. yoga practitioners have varied widely, including two dips during the decidedly downward dog days of 2002 and 2008, which almost certainly were also impacted by a change in research methodology.

In 1994, Yoga Journal reported that “over 6 million Americans practice yoga (3.3% of the population)—1.86 million of them regularly.” That was up from 4 million in 1990.

An analysis by Trisha Lamb for the International Association of Yoga Therapists raises several red flags. For example, a 1998 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that the number practitioners had tripled between 1994 and 1998 to 18 million. On June 16, 2003, the magazine walked that figure back, providing a more down-to-earth 15 million estimate.

Lamb cites a Yoga Journal statement about the 2003 Harris Interactive poll that found that “over 7% of U.S. adults, or 15 million people, now practice yoga, an increase of 28.5% from the year prior.” That increase suggests a more accurate 2002 figure of 11.6 million and not the 28 million estimated earlier.

That’s a significant discrepancy because as Lamb notes, “we are uncertain how the prior-year figure was determined since Yoga Journal’s estimate for 2002 was 18 million practitioners.” And that number doesn’t even include the 10 million estimated to have begun practicing yoga for the first time in 2002, according to the magazine.

Part of the discrepancy may be the result of Yoga Journal halting its practice of reporting entry and core (regular) practitioners, providing only an estimate of total yoga users:

Type199019941998200220032005200820122016
Entry Practitioners1.0M1.2M9.5M10.0M
Core Practitioners3.0M5.0M9.0M18.0M
Total Practitioners4.0M6.2M18.5M28.0M15.0M16.5M15.8M20.4M36.7M
1990, 1994 Roper Starch; Jun-98 Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll; 16-Jun-03, 07-Feb-05 Harris Interactive Service Bureau; 05-Dec-12 Sports Marketing Surveys USA; 13-Jan-16 IPSOS Public Affairs.

Lamb’s 2004 report notes a plateauing of interest in yoga in 2002 and 2003. Yoga Journal claimed that its 2005 projection of 16.5 million was up 43% from 2002, providing further evidence that the actual 2002 figure was 11.5 million and not 18 million. The most recent study, conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, cites 37 million practitioners in 2016, up an astonishing 80% compared to 2012.

By contrast, a 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) found that 9.5% of U.S. adults, or 21 million, used yoga as a complementary health approach. The chart below incorporates NHIS data to provide a more consistent historical growth trajectory.

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Why is this data exercise so important? Many key players, including apparel suppliers, financial analysts, and other parties, rely on these results to generate growth projections and calculate market penetration.

There is no question that the yoga market has grown, as our normalized chart indicates, and its popularity has lifted the fortunes of a host of ancillary businesses, including fitness clubs and yoga apparel maker Lululemon.

The latest Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance study reports that currently 70% of yoga practitioners are women. By comparison, the magazine reported in 2012 that 82% of practitioners were women, while 72% were female in 2008.

The ascendancy of a female dominated sport provided an opening for Canadian entrepreneur Chip Wilson, who opened the first Lululemon store in Vancouver in 1998. Wilson’s timing was impeccable, as the “athleisure” trend was about to kick into high gear. Yoginis eagerly wore trendy Lululemon Groove pants and tops to yoga class, or while shopping or even out to dinner. Lululemon fans helped drive sales to $1,675 per square foot, placing the popular retailer in fourth place behind Apple, Tiffany’s and Michael Kors. 

When Lululemon Athletica made its stock market debut on July 27, 2007, its shares rose 56% to $28 on the first day of trading, giving the company a market value of nearly $2 billion. With 421 stores today, Lululemon just reported a 13% year-over-year revenue growth, well on its way to a $2.5 billion fiscal year. 

And yoga still has much more upside potential. Its biggest boost came in a January 2013 study conducted by Duke University researchers who reported that yoga is a promising treatment for mental illnesses, including mild depression and sleep disorders.

Expect more hotels, like New York’s EVEN Hotel to offer yoga, because as The New York Times recently wrote, “To court millennials, hotels are rolling out the yoga mat.”

Namaste!

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Michael Tchong
Michael Tchong
Michael Tchong is a professional people watcher and founder of four ahead-of-the-wave startups. He’s also a top-rated innovation and trends speaker, and an adjunct professor of innovation and social media at the University of San Francisco and UC Berkeley.